As I have mentioned about my recent trip to PNG, I ate a lot of food when I was there. But all those tasty, tasty calories were put to good use.
Fairly early in the trip, Andy and I decided that Sunday would be the best day to climb up Mt Gubuna, the semi-active volcano in Kilu village. We arranged it with Andy's boat driver, Michael, a Kilu resident and the cousin of the guy who is in charge of Gubuna. He would walk up with us, since the path was poorly defined, and because he had family connections the walk would only cost us 20 Kina (instead of the 20 Kina per person that tourists usually have to pay).
Saturday evening we started getting things ready - water bottles were filled and put into our backpack along with insect repellent, bandages (for any blisters, of course), Oreos, muesli bars, and the camera. Almost immediately after zipping the backpack closed, it started raining outside. Pouring, in fact. And it continued all night long. We woke up on Sunday morning to a light drizzle and hoped that the downpour wouldn't make the trek impossible. Michael found us and asked if we still wanted to go, reminded us that the path wasn't too steep, indicating with his arm a 30 degree angle, and we all decided it was worth a shot.
So we set off through the rain. I didn't take photos on the way up, but I do have some from the trip down. The trek up was much steeper than Michael's arm angle suggested, and even though we took turns carrying the backpack, we were pretty knackered. Michael was like a mountain goat, walking barefoot and getting ahead of us easily, then getting a short break while he waited for us to catch up. As soon as we did, though, he was off again, so the short breaks were almost never experienced by us! We were joined early in our walk by three dogs from the village, with a range of jungle-abilities.
One was constantly running off into the bush in search of smells and sounds; one stuck close to us but was clearly energetic; the last was more comfortable around people and spent most of her time walking between Andy and I. The pace was so quick that there was hardly time to notice the surrounds on the way up, other than to register that once we entered the jungle, it was thick. There was only one spill on the way up, when Andy slipped in the mud on the way up a very steep section, but he walked it off and eventually we made it to the top and were met with a pretty incredible view.
From what I gathered, the volcano hasn't erupted, with lava and the works, since the 90s. But it is active pretty regularly, smoking, steaming, and spewing ash. It was very active about a year ago, but it had subsided enough that we could head down into the vent, which was crusted over with hard clay.
In a few spots, the clay was soft; we didn't step there.
Although it is considered inactive at the moment, the volcano still smelt strongly of sulphur, and there was a pool of water boiling away.
We were muddy and tired, and my legs were already sore, but this was worth it!
The distinction between the lush green rainforest and the burnt, stony volcano was stark and beautiful.
After a few minutes (and a few sandwiches), it was time to head back up to the edge so that we could head back down the mountain. This required a bush bash through some ferns.
Then it was back into the jungle. The way down was, hypothetically at least, easier than the way up. However, it had been raining for longer; our tracks on the way up had muddied things a bit; and we were tired. As a result, there were a few more spills on the way down. Andy and I both ended up with muddy bums, but somehow Michael stayed upright and clean the whole time.
We did have time to gaze at the scenery a bit more than when our heads were down on the trek up.
There were plenty of big trees which made Andy, who is quite big himself, look puny.
Only about half of the walk was actually through the rainforest, though. We also spent a fair bit of time walking through gardens. Villagers have huge patches of land where they grow taro, bananas, and everything else they need. Given the rich, volcanic soil and the regular rainfall, the gardens are lush and prolific.
In addition to subsistence agriculture, these gardens were home to lots of cocoa for export, to feed our hungry addictions to chocolate. (On the way up, we opened a ripe cocoa pod and sucked on the seeds. They are coated in a fruit which is similar in taste and texture to custard apple. Usually the fruit is discarded and the seeds are dried into cocoa beans. I thought the fruit was pretty yummy, too.)
At lunchtime, we made it back down to the small collection of huts where we started.
It was still raining, we were exhausted and soaked, sore, and Andy had massive blisters all over his feet. We got a brief rest on the bench under the hut, so we cracked open the Oreos and shared them around, and quickly became heroes in the eyes of a ~7 year old girl who has probably never eaten chocolate cookies before.
Finally, we had a short walk through some oil palm plantation -- these trees take up most of the island, provide most of the employment, and provide the world with a cheap source of fat.
When we got back, we kind of could barely walk. For two days. We managed to get into the water for a swim the next day, which helped to stretch out some muscles. But it also gave Andy blisters on top of his hike-blisters. As sore and exhausted as the walk left me, it was an incredible experience that I wouldn't hesitate to do again.